UC Irvine is a powerhouse of technical mastery in another kind of submicroscopic exploration: the transmission electron microscope, or TEM.
Five muscular new instruments on campus extend the reach of UCI investigators into realms at and below the size of an atom, with a resolution high enough to see atoms and molecules in three dimensions – even to make them dance.
Among the instruments’ capabilities: shooting electrons through a thin foil, creating images of atoms much the way a doctor’s X-ray machine creates images of bone. One of the new instruments, in fact, relies on scanning technology (earning it the acronym, STEM) to image vibrations of molecules in real time, and to view directly how they react when forces, such as electric fields, are applied.
The new instruments could yield important insights into an eclectic variety of fields. Better understanding of catalysts, for instance, could lead to far more efficient exhaust treatment for cars and trucks, sharply reducing their pollution output. Improved understanding of catalysts also could bring advances in photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into energy. And new, more powerful computer memory and even components for futuristic quantum computers could result from these instruments’ sharp new rendering of the subatomic world.
The TEM facility will also help chemical biologists to understand the structure of macromolecular complexes that are important for finding a cure for cancer.